These cranberry cream cheese hot cross buns make a delicious addition to your Easter brunch. Cream cheese in the dough help to tenderize these buns so they are more cake-like than bread-like. I add orange zest and vanilla as well to pair beautifully with the dried cranberries.

If you’re looking for another delicious Easter bread, consider my Armenian Easter bread.

For ease of browsing, you can also find all my sweet dough recipes here in one place.

Pastry Chef Online Participates in Affiliate Programs. If you make a purchase through one of my links, I may earn a small commission. For more information click to read my disclosure policy

A cooling rack with cream cheese hot cross buns on it.

Cranberry Cream Cheese Hot Cross Buns, At a Glance

✔️Skill Level: Intermediate
✔️Skills: Proofing Yeast, Making an Enriched Dough, Scaling and Shaping Buns, Baking
✔️Type: Individual Buns
✔️Number of Ingredients: Buns: 14, Eggwash: 2, Glaze: 4
✔️Prep Time: 30 minutes
✔️Cook Time: 22 minutes
✔️Yield: 12 hot cross buns

Jump Straight to the Recipe

Why Make These Hot Cross Buns?

An overhead shot of hot cross buns with icing crosses on them arranged on a lavender linen surface.

One of the lovely things about these cranberry hot cross buns is that the dough itself is rich and sweet.

I appreciate this in a hot cross bun, since usually, the only real sweetness is in the cross of frosting. And I am a fan of sweet.

The recipe I began with, printed here, uses cranberries and maple syrup to bring a New England style to the buns.

I kept that flavor combination, adding orange zest, because cranberries and orange is a great combination, and I replaced butter with cream cheese.

Adding cream cheese yields a lovely, tender-mellow crumb and an almost creamy finish to the light and delicate buns. Look!

A hot cross bun cut in half to show the interior crumb and the dried cranberries throughout.

How to Make Them

These hot cross buns are not really too hard to make. if you don’t need instruction, feel free to jump straight to the recipe.

Think of making the dough as a 4-step process:

  1. Soaking the berries: Plumping up your dried fruit will keep all the moisture in the dough where it belongs instead of having it get sucked up by the dried fruit. You don’t have to soak them, but your resulting buns will be a bit more dense.
  2. Proofing the yeast: For this step, scalded milk, water, yeast, and a touch of maple syrup. If using instant yeast, you can skip the proofing and just add all these ingredients to the mixer along with the rest.
  3. Making the dough: Here’s where you add all the dough ingredients except the fat and berries. You’ll use sugar, maple syrup, egg, vanilla, orange zest, nutmeg, salt, and bread flour
  4. Adding the fat: This is where you add in softened cream cheese, a bit at a time. This is the same process you’d use if making brioche, except we’re using cream cheese instead of butter.

Now, let’s look at the ingredients.

Ingredients and Substitutions

Labeled images of the ingredients needed to make cranberry cream cheese hot cross buns: whole milk, hot water, yeast, maple syrup, sugar, eggs (1 + eggwash_, vanilla, orange zest, nutmeg, kosher salt, bread flour, dried cranberries, coarse sugar, cream cheese, orange juice, apple juice, and powdered sugar.
  • whole milk: Whole milk makes up half the liquid in the recipe. You can substitute with half and half for an even richer dough. You’ll need to heat it until it is steaming on the stove–about 170-180F.
  • cold water: Mixing the hot milk with the same amount of cold water helps to lower the temperture rapidly but still ensure that it’s warm and cozy for the yeast
  • yeast: I use instant yeast. You can substitute active dry yeast, if that’s what you have. I give instructions for proofing the active dry and also when to add instant, if that’s what you’re using
  • maple syrup: Adds additional liquid and a gentle sweetness and a very mild maple flavor.
  • sugar: For sweetness, tenderizing the crumb, and to assist with browning. If you do not like a very sweet bread, you can halve the amount of sugar or even leave it out entirely, although the crumb will be a little less soft
  • eggs: One whole egg goes in the dough for emulsifiers, additional liquid, structure, and browning. You’ll also mix another egg with a bit of water and whisk it for eggwash
  • vanilla: Perfumes the whole dough with a woody/floral aroma
  • orange zest: Brings a bright zing of orange oil to the dough, which is a lovely complement to the cranberries. You may omit it or substitute lemon zest
  • nutmeg: Adds gentle spice and warmth to the dough. If you don’t like/can’t have nutmeg, substitute with a little cinnamon or cardamom, or leave it out entirely
  • kosher salt: Rounds out and focuses all the flavors. Salt also moderates yeast growth so the dough doesn’t overproof and get flabby
  • bread flour: This is what gives us the gluten for a springy and high-rising bun. I use King Arthur
  • dried cranberries: Substitute any dried fruit, snipping or cutting larger ones into small, dried cranberry-sized pieces. Consider raisins, currants, dried blueberries, cherries, apricots, etc
  • apple juice: This is for hydrating the fruit. I actually used white grape juice. Any light, clear juice will work, or you can use water. I wouldn’t use orange juice, because it can get very astringent when boiled
  • cream cheese: Adds some fat for a soft and tender crumb, a little bit of additional water, and a mellow quality you really have to taste to appreciate
  • coarse sugar: After eggwashing the risen buns, a sprinkle of 1/2-1 teaspoon coarse sugar per bun adds a bit of texture and sparkle
  • orange juice: The liquid for the glaze. If you choose not to use orange zest in the dough, you can use milk as the liquid instead. Also consider using some lemon juice, especially if you chose dried cherries or blueberries as your mixin
  • powdered sugar: Lends sweetness and body to the glaze
  • butter: (not pictured) You need a tablespoon or two of melted butter for the glaze. You can just use powdered sugar and orange juice, but I find using a touch of fat helps to get rid of the raw taste of the powdered sugar and rounds out/mellows the flavor a bit

Procedure and Process Shots

If you are an old hand at making buns, especially ones filled with mixins, you can head straight to the recipe. Otherwise, let’s go over the procedure with some visuals to help.

Hydrating the Cranberries

Heat the fruit and juice (or water) to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Then drain well, spread out onto several thicknesses of paper toweling, blot them as dry as you can, and then spread them out to cool completely while you make the dough.

A collage of two images: 1)cranberries boiling in a pan of liquid, and 2)Rehydrated cranberries spread out on several layers of paper towel to cool.

Making the Dough

If using active dry yeast, you’ll mix the hot milk, cold water, and a teaspoon or two of maple syrup together, stir in the yeast, and let it proof until foamy before adding the rest of the dough ingredients except for the cranberries and cream cheese.

Your mixer will do most of the work, first kneading the dough for about 10 minutes, then mixing in cream cheese a bit at a time, until it’s all incorporated.

A collage of 4 images: 1)Water and a little maple syrup in the bottom of a metal mixing bowl. 2)milk, an egg, spices, salt, and yeast in the bottom of a metal mixing bowl with orange zest being grated in using a Microplane. 3)The mixing bowl with a bunch of bread flour dumped on top of the liquid ingredients, and 4)A shaggy dough starting to form in the mixing bowl fitted with the dough hook.

I use instant yeast, so I skipped the proofing step. The first photo shows water and maple syrup in the mixer bowl.

Jenni says: Once you mix the hot milk and the cold water together, check the temp with an instant-read thermometer before you add the yeast. Make sure it is no hotter than about 120F. Mine was about 109F when I checked.

The second photo shows the rest of the “wet” ingredients in the bowl: hot milk, yeast, maple syrup, sugar, an egg, spices and vanilla, and orange zest.

Add the flour all at once on top of the wet ingredients, and then mix on low speed for about a minute until the dough comes together in a bit of a shaggy mass.

Kneading, Adding Cream Cheese, and Bulk Fermentation

A collage of four images: 1)Smooth dough wrapped around the dough hook in a mixer bowl. 2)A knife with a small piece of cream cheese on it getting ready to be kneaded into the dough. 3)Cream cheese smeared on the inside of the mixer bowl as it gets kneaded into the dough. 4)The finished dough, which is a bit lighter in color than the dough before adding cream cheese.
  • Top left: The dough after kneading for 10 minutes on about medium-low speed. At this point, the dough will be tacky but not sticky, and there should be little, if any, sticking in the bottom or around the sides of the bowl.
  • Top right: Once the dough has finished kneading and has a good gluten structure, it’s time to add softened cream cheese, a little at a time.
  • Bottom left: Add little pieces at a time, making sure they get completely incorporated into the dough before adding more. First it will sort of smear on the sides of the bowl, and a few seconds later, it gets pulled into the dough.
  • Bottom right: Once the cream cheese is incorporated (5-7 minutes), the dough will be smooth, a little shiny, and a little lighter in color.

PRO TIP: Since fat tenderizes gluten, waiting until the end to add the fat (cream cheese) ensures you get a dough with good gluten-development.

Once the dough is finished, gather it into a smooth ball, oil it or spray it with pan spray, and then allow it to rise in a cozy place for about an hour. Your dough will just about double. See?

A collage of 2 images showing a ball of dough in a mixing bowl, before and after rising. The second dough ball is much larger than it was to begin with in the first image.

Adding the Inclusions and Shaping the Buns

An inclusion is anything you add to the bread that isn’t an actual part of the dough. They’re the mixins.

In this case, we’re including, or mixing in, rehydrated dried cranberries.

You can certainly just knead them in on the mixer, but the crumb will suffer a bit and the dough could get sloppy and the fruit could get broken up too much since it’s rehydrated and more delicate.

Here’s how to mix in or “include” the berries without adversely affecting the gluten structure of the dough.

I numbered this photo to make it easier to follow along. The steps are written below the photo.

A collage of 6 images showing how to add dried cranberries to a bulk fermented cream cheese hot cross bun dough. The process is to press the dough out into a rectangle, spread out half of the cranberries over the surface, and fold up in thirds like a letter. Then press it out again in the other direction, and add the rest of the cranberries in a letter fold. Lastly, you'll make one more letter fold the opposite direction from the last inclusion, completely enclosing the fruit in the dough.
  1. Once bulk fermentation (the first rise) is done, press it out into a rectangle, and then evenly sprinkle half the berries over the entire surface. Use your fingers to sort of dimple them all into the dough so most of them end up “sticking.”
  2. Fold the cranberry-covered dough in thirds like a letter.
  3. Turn the packet of dough 90 degrees, then press it out again into a rectangle.
  4. Dimple in the rest of the cranberries just like you did with the first half.
  5. Give the dough another letter fold, and then press it out a bit. Notice there will still be cranberries “showing” on either side, so you need to do one more letter fold to enclose all of them.
  6. The finished dough after doing one more letter fold and then turning the dough over.

Now that the cranberries are all mixed in, it’s time to shape the dough.

A collage of 4 images. showing how to shape cranberry buns. 1)The dough divided in half, showing the cranberries layered in fairly evenly. 2)The dough cut into 12 equal portions arranged on a counter. 3)The portioned dough shaped into smooth round balls. A couple have some cranberries peeking out. 4)the balls of dough arranged on a parchment-lined sheet pan and ready for their second rise.
  • Top left: Cut the dough roughly in half. Notice how the berries are nicely layered into the dough, and they’re all holding their shape. That’s why we take the time to do the inclusions after the first rise and by hand and not using the mixer.
  • Top right: Scale the dough out into 12 equal pieces. For the most consistent rolls, weigh the entire amount of dough and then divide by 12. My pieces were all between 3.6 and 3.7 oz.
  • Bottom left: This step can get a little messy, especially for buns that have a lot of moist cranberries in them. Take a look at each dough ball, and find a side that has the most smooth dough. That will be the top of your bun, so press the dough into a disc with the smoothest side up, then tuck all the edges underneath so you have a pretty smooth surface. Build some tension over the top of each ball by using the friction of the counter to tighten the balls up just a bit. Some will be easier to do than others, but even if you have a couple of not-so-pretty ones like I did, they’ll still taste fantastic.
  • Bottom right: Transfer the balls of dough to a parchment-lined half sheet pan, spray the tops with pan spray or brush lightly with neutral oil, cover, and let rise in a cozy place until nice and puffy and almost touching, about 45 minutes to an hour.

Second Rise, Egg Washing, and Baking

Now that your buns are rising nicely in a cozy place, whip up your eggwash by whisking an egg together with maybe 2 teaspoons of water–just a little splash–and a pinch of salt.

When the buns are nice and puffy, slash the tops in a cross with a sharp knife. You can also snip them with scissors, first one way, and then the other.

Eggwash them, sprinkle them with coarse salt, and bake them until golden brown and delicious.

A collage of 4 images showing how to finish hot cross buns before baking. 1)The buns on parchment before rising. 2)The same buns, which have risen considerable and are much larger than at the beginning of the rise. 3)Brushing eggwash on the buns with a silicone pastry brush. 4)A close up of fingers sprinkling coarse sugar on top of the buns before baking.

All that’s left is to whip up the glaze and either pipe or use a spoon to make icing crosses on top of the buns.

Rising Schedule

I gave my guys two rises:

  • one relatively short (about one hour). This is where you cover the dough and allow it to rise right after you’ve made it. This is also called “bulk fermentation,” because it’s the rise before you cut the dough into portions. The dough will almost double in this step.
  • another about-an-hour rise after shaping the individual buns and right before baking. The buns will just about double in size during this rise.

The resulting buns are almost cake-like in texture.

Overnight Hot Cross Buns Option

A square image of hot cross buns on a cooling rack.

For a more bread-like, brioche-type dough, give the dough an initial long rise and then wrap and refrigerate it overnight.

The next day, shape it into buns, and give them one more long rise before baking.

This schedule will result in a much more “feathery” crumb.

Either way, I highly recommend you make these Easter treats!

Hot Cross Buns Q & A

An overhead shot of six hot cross buns all lined up with their icing crosses touching on a purple linen surface.
How long do these keep?

The buns are best eaten the day you bake them. They will still be delicious for up to two more days at room temperature, but do reheat before serving. 10-15 seconds in the microwave per bun is all it takes.

Do they freeze well?

Yes! Like most yeast breads, cream cheese hot cross buns freeze very well. Put as many as will fit in a zip-top freezer bag and press out as much air as possible before freezing. You’ll probably need 2 gallon-sized bags. They will keep just fine for a good 2 months.

How do I thaw them?

Take out as many buns from the freezer as you’d like. You can thaw them in the microwave (which will also heat them) or leave them out until thawed, about an hour at room temperature.

Questions?

If you have any questions about this post or recipe, I am happy to help.

Simply leave a comment here and I will get back to you soon. I also invite you to ask question in my Facebook group, Fearless Kitchen Fun.

If your question is more pressing, please feel free to email me. I should be back in touch ASAP, as long as I’m not asleep.

A Note About Measurements

My recipes are almost all written by weight, including liquids, unless otherwise specified.

For accuracy and consistency of results, I encourage you to buy–and use–a kitchen scale.

I promise that baking and cleanup will be so much quicker and easier.

This is the scale that I recommend for home use. I have owned and used one for years.

Best for Home Use
Escali Primo Digital Food Scale
$27.18 $24.79

Don't let its small price and small size fool you. The Escali Primo is an accurate and easy-to-use food scale that I have used for years. It's easy to store, easy to use, has a tare function, and easily switches between grams and ounces/pounds for accurate measurements.

Purchase Now How & Why to Use a Kitchen Scale
This is an affiliate link which means I earn from qualifying purchases. Your price is unaffected.
07/22/2024 07:15 am GMT

Please Take a Moment to Rate and Review

5 golden stars for rating recipes
A square image of hot cross buns on a cooling rack.

Cranberry Cream Cheese Hot Cross Buns

Jennifer Field
Bursting with dried cranberries and orange zest, these sweet, mellow hot cross buns will be a hit at your Easter brunch.
5 from 2 votes
Tried this recipe?Please give it a star rating!
Prep Time 3 hours
Cook Time 18 minutes
Total Time 3 hours 18 minutes
Course Sweet Yeast Bread Recipes
Cuisine English
Servings 12 -15
Calories 305 kcal

Ingredients

To Get the Yeast Going

  • 4 oz whole milk or half and half 113 grams or 1/2 cup, brought to a simmer on the stove
  • 4 oz cold water 113 grams or 1/2 cup
  • 2 teaspoons dry yeast 6 grams, instant or active dry
  • 2 teaspoons of maple syrup (don't measure. Just a wee splash) OMIT if using instant yeast, because there's no need to proof.

For the Dough

  • 5.6 oz dried cranberries 160 grams or 1 cup
  • 12 oz water or juice 340 grams or 1 1/2 cups, for hydrating the cranberries. I used white grape juice.
  • 2.75 oz real maple syrup (Grade B if you can find it) 78 grams or 1/4 cup
  • 1.75 oz granulated sugar 50 grams or 1/4 cup, you may reduce the amount by half for a slightly less-sweet bread
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • zest of 1 orange
  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt 12 grams by weight. Volume will vary based on type of salt used, so it's always better to weigh it
  • 18.5 oz bread flour 524 grams or about 4 1/2 cups
  • 4 oz cream cheese 113 grams or half a block, softened and cut into small pieces

For Eggwash and finishing

  • 1 whole egg
  • Demerara or Turbinado Sugar for sprinkling

For the Glaze

  • 1/2-1 oz butter 1-2 Tablespoons or 15-30 grams, melted
  • 1 ½ Tablespoons orange juice about 42 grams or 3 tablespoons
  • pinch fine sea salt
  • enough powdered sugar to make a fairly stiff glaze that holds its shape See Notes

Instructions
 

  • Place the cranberries and water or juice in a small saucepan and bring just to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, and allow to simmer for 10 minutes. Drain the berries, and spread them on several layers of paper towel. Blot them as dry as you can, and leave them to cool to room temperature while you make the dough.
  • In your mixer bowl, mix together the hot milk and cold water. Mixture should be warm but not hot.
  • Stir in the yeast and the two teaspoons of maple syrup.
  • Let sit until small bubbles form on top, about ten to fifteen minutes. NOTE: If using instant yeast, you can skip the proofing step and add the dry yeast right along with the rest of the ingredients.
  • Add the rest of the dough ingredients except for the dried fruit and cream cheese. Start with the smaller amount of bread flour, and only add a little at a time if the dough needs it. (See Step 7)
  • Attach the dough hook and mix on low speed until the dough comes together.
  • Increase speed to medium and knead for 10 minutes. The dough should be slightly tacky, soft, smooth, and extensible. Little if any will stick in the bottom of your mixer bowl.
  • Once the dough is lovely, with the mixer on low speed, add the softened cream cheese, just a bit at a time, until it is well incorporated. This should take about 5-7 minutes. The finished dough will be somewhat sticky but also shiny and smooth.
  • Form the dough into a nice ball in the bottom of the mixer bowl, spray thoroughly with pan spray, and let rise in a warm place for about an hour. Dough will just about double in size.
  • Place a rack in the center of your oven and preheat to 400F.
  • Press any gases out of the dough, turn out onto a clean surface, and press into a rectangle about 12" long and maybe 8" wide. Sprinkle half the cranberries evenly over the dough, and dimple them in with your fingertips as if you're making dimples in focaccia. Do this until most of the berries are pushed into and sticking to the dough.
    A collage of 6 images showing how to add dried cranberries to a bulk fermented cream cheese hot cross bun dough. The process is to press the dough out into a rectangle, spread out half of the cranberries over the surface, and fold up in thirds like a letter. Then press it out again in the other direction, and add the rest of the cranberries in a letter fold. Lastly, you'll make one more letter fold the opposite direction from the last inclusion, completely enclosing the fruit in the dough.
  • Fold the berry-topped dough into thirds, like a letter. then press it out into another rectangle. Sprinkle on the remaining cranberries, dimple them in, fold in thirds one way, press out a bit, and fold in thirds the opposite way so all the berries are encased in the dough.
  • Cut the dough into 12 equal pieces. The most precise way to do this is to weigh the dough and divide by 12. My pieces were about 3.6-3.7 oz each.
  • Find the smoothest section of each piece of dough and make that the top of your bun. You don't want a whole bunch of berries sticking out. Press each piece out into a disc and then pull the ends underneath, using your fingers to push any berries not cooperating into the underside of the ball you're making. Round each ball on a clean, dry counter to introduce some tension across the dough.
    A collage of 4 images. showing how to shape cranberry buns. 1)The dough divided in half, showing the cranberries layered in fairly evenly. 2)The dough cut into 12 equal portions arranged on a counter. 3)The portioned dough shaped into smooth round balls. A couple have some cranberries peeking out. 4)the balls of dough arranged on a parchment-lined sheet pan and ready for their second rise.
  • Space evenly on a half sheet pan lined with parchment paper, in a 3 x 4 pattern. Spray the buns lightly with pan spray, cover, and let rise in a cozy place until nice and puffy, about 45 minutes to an hour.
  • Once the buns are well-risen, slice an X in the top of each bun with a sharp knife.
  • Brush the buns thoroughly with egg wash and sprinkle on about 1 teaspoon of demerara or other coarse sugar.
  • Bake the buns for 12 minutes.
  • Turn the oven temperature down to 350F, rotate the pan 180 degrees, and continue baking until the buns are a deep golden brown and they reach an internal temperature of 195F, about another 10 minutes. NOTE: The center rolls may take a bit longer to bake, so take the temp in the side of a few different buns.
  • Remove from the oven and place on a rack to cool.
  • After about ten minutes, pipe a cross onto each bun. Use any decorating tip you like. You can also use a spoon to make the cross, allowing the thick glaze to run off the spoon slowly as you "draw" a cross with the icing.
  • Cool completely and then rewarm to serve. These are best eaten the same day, but do try to eat them all within three days. You can also freeze them and then reheat for a treat whenever you want.

For the Glaze

  • Whisk together all ingredients until you have a smooth, shiny glaze that is thick enough to pipe. I never measure for glaze, honestly. Just go for it.

Did You Make Any Changes?

Notes

To Make Smaller Buns

If you want smaller buns, you can weigh the dough then divide by whatever number you want to get the weight you need. If you want slightly smaller buns that I made, divide by 15. If you want buns about half the size of the ones I made, divide by 24.

Glaze Consistency

If piping the glaze, you will want a fairly stiff glaze. If using a spoon, you’ll want the glaze to slowly run off the spoon, so adjust the consistency by adding orange juice, a tiny bit at a time, until it’s the consistency you need.
 

Nutrition

Calories: 305kcalCarbohydrates: 53gProtein: 6.6gFat: 7.3gSaturated Fat: 4.2gCholesterol: 42mgSodium: 283mgFiber: 1.7gSugar: 21.4g
Keyword cranberry hot cross buns, hot cross buns. cream cheese hot cross buns
Did you make this recipe?Please tell us what you loved!

I do hope these cream cheese hot cross buns bring a bit of extra sweetness to your Easter table.

After Easter is over, feel free to make these into whatever shape you want and glaze the whole roll, too.

Take care, and thank you so much for spending some time here today.

Have a lovely day.

Join in Today!

My Top 5 Secrets to Becoming Fearless in the Kitchen

Plus weekly new recipes, how-tos, tips, tricks, and everything in between

4 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Absolutely delicious. It’s a keeper recipe. Tender crumb, lots of cranberries, lots of flavor. I used chopped dehydrated orange rinds from Honeybell oranges in years past. They rehydrated just fine. I’m in love with adding cream cheese at the end of the kneading process. I’m dreaming of cinnamon rolls with this dough. I doubled the recipe, and had everything out in separate bowls for each batch. I knew my mixer would not hold 8 cups of flour. Pulling the ingredients together was a lot easier after I made the first batch.Don’t be scared of all the ingredients. You can pretty much keep adding to the yeast mixture, in your mixing bowl, after the yeast has been proofed (if needed) and you’ve rehydrated the dried cranberries.

5 from 2 votes

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating




This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.